SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium - Mercedes dominated practice for the 2014 Belgian Formula GP on Friday with Lewis Hamilton ending the day top of the time sheets and 0.6sec faster than championship-leading team mate Nico Rosberg.
LOOKING SHATTERED:Lotus' driver Pastor Maldonado's car trackside after crashing in second practice at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit on Friday August 22 ahead of the 2014 Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix. AFP / Tom Gandolfino
Rosberg set the morning pace with a lap only 0.097sec faster than Hamilton but the latter turned the tables after lunch with a substantially quicker effort.
The time of 1min49.189 on soft tyres was 0.604 better than Rosberg's on a cloudy but bright day at the longest track on F1 calendar with a mini-climate that can rotate through the seasons in one afternoon.
Rosberg topped the first session time sheets with a 1min51.577 as the two title rivals - separated by only 11 points after 11 of 19 races - renewed their duel after the August break and completed more than two race distances.
The afternoon running was interrupted when Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado crashed his Lotus into a barrier. He made a quick trip to the medical centre but was given the all-clear.
There was a further stoppage in the first half-hour when Mexican Esteban Gutierrez's Sauber spun and was stranded on the track.
Hamilton said later, after buckets of ice were tipped over him after he stepped out of the car as part of a social-media charity challenge: "It's great to be back in the car and it was feeling good out there today. The forecast is wet for Saturday so it was important to maximise track time on what might have been our last dry running before the race.”
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso was third-fastest in each session; McLaren's Jenson Button was fourth in the morning and fifth in the afternoon.
The Mercedes-powered teams were predicted to dominate and had seven cars in the top 10 in the opening session but Ferrari's showing, with four-times Spa winner Kimi Raikkonen fifth-fastest in the morning despite a spin, indicated Mercedes would not have it all its own way.
Alonso said: "At this track, and at Monza, engine performance counts for a lot. We know there is no magic solution but we will try to optimise everything.”
VETTEL SITS IT OUT
Williams had a low-key start with Finland's Valtteri Bottas 10th on the time sheets and Brazilian Felipe Massa 15th but picked up with Massa fourth in the afternoon.
Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, winner at the previous race in Hungary, was ninth and eighth in the two sessions while his quadruple F1 champion team mate Sebastian Vettel sat out the second session due to an electrical problem that forced a ‘power unit’ change.
At the bottom end of the field Germany’s Lotterer limbered up for his F1 debut with Caterham as a replacement for Japan's Kamui Kobayashi by lapping faster than Swedish rookie team mate Marcus Ericsson in the morning.
Team principal Christijan Albers commented later: "Having Andre in the car is definitely helping us. He has done an extraordinary job on his first day driving for us."
American Alexander Rossi replaced Max Chilton at Marussia for the session but his hopes of completing the weekend and racing for the first time evaporated when Chilton was reinstated because of contractual wrangles.
First free practice times
1 Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes 1min51.577
2 Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes 1min51.674
3 Fernando Alonso (Spain) Ferrari 1min51.805
4 Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren 1min52.404
5 Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari 1min52.818
6 Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India 1min52.903
7 Kevin Magnussen (Denmark) McLaren 1min52.922
8 Nico Hulkenberg (Germany) Force India 1min52.937
9 Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull 1min52.972
10 Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams 1min53.172
11 Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Red Bull 1min53.369
12 Daniil Kvyat (Russia) Toro Rosso 1min53.594
13 Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus 1min53.597
14 Adrian Sutil (Germany) Sauber 1min53.703
15 Felipe Massa (Brazil) Williams 1min53.968
16 Jean-Eric Vergne (France) Toro Rosso 1min54.189
17 Giedo van der Garde (Netherlands) Sauber 1min54.335
18 Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Lotus 1min55.336
19 Jules Bianchi (France) Marussia 1min55.782
20 Alexander Rossi (U.S.) Marussia 1min57.232
21 Andre Lotterer (Germany) Caterham 1min57.886
22 Marcus Ericsson (Sweden) Caterham 1min57.977
Second free practice times
1 Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes 1min49.189
2 Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes 1min49.793
3 Fernando Alonso (Spain) Ferrari 1min49.930
4 Felipe Massa (Brazil) Williams 1min50.327
5 Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren 1min50.659
6 Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams 1min50.677
7 Daniil Kvyat (Russia) Toro Rosso 1min50.725
8 Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull 1min50.977
9 Kevin Magnussen (Denmark) McLaren 1min51.074
10 Nico Hulkenberg (Germany) Force India 1min51.077
11 Jean-Eric Vergne (France) Toro Rosso 1min51.383
12 Adrian Sutil (Germany) Sauber 1min51.450
13 Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India 1min51.573
14 Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus 1min52.196
15 Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari 1min52.234
16 Jules Bianchi (France) Marussia 1min52.776
17 Esteban Gutierrez (Mexico) Sauber 1min53.955
18 Max Chilton (Britain) Marussia 1min54.040
19 Marcus Ericsson (Sweden) Caterham 1min54.050
20 Andre Lotterer (Germany) Caterham 1min54.093
21 Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Lotus
22 Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Red Bull